The sandy parking lot outside a lanky red-brick building in the Danish village of Nakskov is stacked deep with white fibreglass shapes that look like… they look like… well, I suppose they look like misshapen catamaran hulls, upended and awaiting assembly down at the local harbour.
Turns out, they’re wind turbine blades. And they’re gigantic up close: over twice as long as our bus, and, at their deepest, taller than a man.
For the moment, they’re impotent, resting on their wheeled transport frames. But the spinning turbines on an experimental plot nearby tell of things to come. These blades are part of Denmark’s booming wind power technology exports and once they’re assembled, they’ll generate green power on some distant part of the globe.
We can’t stop to take photographs – proprietary knowledge, our guide tells us, the company doesn’t like people to take pictures (we snap away through the windows of the bus, anyway) – but this is how the port town recovered from the crippling oil crisis of the 1970s which killed the local fishing industry here.
Nakskov falls within the economically marginal municipal district of Lolland, on Denmark’s fourth largest island. To lift itself out of the economic slump of the ’70s, the municipality turned green by attracting companies who wanted to do research and development in renewable energy technologies.
Today they have one of the largest wind turbine blade exporters, and the world’s first offshore wind power plant and an experimental housing scheme that runs off hydrogen for heating and power. Biomass dumped at the local recycling plant is also burned to produce power.
Wind electricity generated here is used within the Lolland municipality, and is sold onto the national and Scandinavian grips. But some of the excess electricity is also used to produce hydrogen, an energy hungry process. This hydrogen is piped to the experimental houses (only one is on the “grid” at the moment, but they’ll have five in operation soon) where hydrogen fuel cells give the homes their electricity and heating.
Soon they’ll have a wave energy test plant in operation. And dykes – which have been built to keep the rising sea level at bay – are going to have algae production ponds built into them, where algae will be grown for biomass and fuel. The Lolland municipality markets itself to businesses as a green laboratory where companies can test out their tech and it seems to have helped the region’s economic recovery.
Across Denmark, about 20 percent of its grid is fed with wind power. It imports some hydropower from Sweden. Beyond that, most of its energy is from fossil fuels – some of which comes from burning imported South African coal.
But the gulf between a sustainable green future, and the current fossil fuel-intensive one, is made all the more real as the sky above us gets criss-crossed with the contrails of aircraft whizzing this way and that over Scandinavia.
Seems we have a long way to go before we turn the corner on our fossil fuel economy.
*Download a copy of this article.
Leonie Joubert is a freelance science journalist, columnist and author. To view more of her writing, visit www.scorched.co.za